Beijing (AsiaNews) - Asia is the world's top importer of weapons, this according to a study released on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Over the past five years, Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 per cent in volume of conventional arm imports, compared with 19 per cent for Europe, 17 per cent for the Middle East, 11 per cent for North and South America, and 9 per cent for Africa. China, which was the world's top importer in 2006-2007, dropped to fourth place, not because of any pacifist change of heart but because it boosted domestic production and exports.
SIPRI monitored weapons transfers for the 2007-2011 period. Its report shows that India was the first world importer over the period, accounting for 10 per cent in weapons volume, followed by South Korea (6 per cent), China and Pakistan (5 per cent), and Singapore (4 per cent). These five countries accounted for 30 per cent of the volume of international arms imports, the report said.
"The decline in the volume of Chinese imports coincides with the improvements in China's arms industry and rising arms exports," especially to Pakistan, the report said. The latter bought 50 JF 17 from the mainland, plus a large number of tanks. For Beijing, arms sales to Pakistan are a way to counter India's military capabilities and play up the Indo-Pakistani rivalry.
"In certain sectors such as combat aircraft, with the exception of certain parts like engines, China is able to put together these systems largely from their own indigenous base now," Paul Holtom, director of SIPRI's arms transfer program, said. By contrast, "India is still struggling there."
At the same time, there is no let up in China's military build-up with 11 per cent of GDP spent on defence. Economic interests, territorial disputes and foreign sales are increasingly the driving forces behind China's military strategy. In the past five years, Beijing doubled its exports over the 2002-2007 period.
The Communist state is concerned with the United States Far East doctrine, which runs counter to its own strategic interests.
For Ni Lexiong, a military analyst at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, China is sending a warning to Washington and Delhi. Both appear bent on limiting Beijing's scope in the South China Sea and beyond.